The next time Cincinnati Red lefthander David Wells shaves off his mustache—as he had to when he joined the clean-shaven Reds in July—he might just store the clippings in a Baggie and flick them at Cincinnati owner Marge Schott before a big game. Schott likes to rub fur from her late St. Bernard, Schottzie, on the Red players, because she thinks it has mystical qualities that will help them win. Wells takes the parochial view that it's icky hair from a dead dog, and he doesn't want it on him. But that's O.K., Schott has her way and Wells has his, and everything is cool as long as Cincy is winning and Wells is getting his turn on the mound.
You do not take a bone from a dog, and you do not take a baseball from Wells. Cincinnati manager Davey Johnson wanted to do that in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Friday, as he demonstrated by sending Mariano Duncan to the on-deck circle in the bottom of the sixth inning to bat for Wells. "I told Davey I'd kick his butt and take Gully [pitching coach Don Gullett] with him," Wells said later. "In different words, of course." The threat wasn't nearly as effective as Mark Lewis's pinch-hit grand slam that gave the Reds a 7-1 lead before Duncan could get to the plate. "The ball was hardly out of the park, and there was [ Wells] at the bat rack," Johnson said.
Given the reprieve and a six-run cushion, the 6'4", 225-pound Wells dragged himself down the line to beat out a roller to shortstop. He got an out in the seventh before finally giving up the ball, having struck out eight, and Cincinnati went on to complete its sweep of L.A. 10-1.
Wells is the anti-Red, at least if you buy the club's hoary image of a bunch of Ward Cleavers that represents one of the country's most conservative cities. Wells is as loud as the music he listens to before he pitches—a mix of Van Halen. AC/DC, Ted Nugent and other lite classics—which has made him a breath of fresh air and a gust of hot wind since he came over from the Detroit Tigers on the July 31 trading deadline. The man talks. Like the needles that tattooed a handsome portrait of his toddler son, Brandon, on his right biceps, Wells has left a lasting impression in his new clubhouse.
"The Boomer comes in one day just after we got him, and his teeth are sticking out funny," Red closer Jeff Brantley says. "We're thinking that this guy's a major leaguer and he needs to go to the dentist bad. Then he just pulls out his false teeth. He didn't care. That's Wells, a true lefthander."
Wells, 6-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 11 regular-season starts with Cincinnati, tilled out a rotation carefully crafted for an assault on the Reds' National League Championship Series opponents this week, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are top heavy in left-handed power with David Justice, Ryan Klesko and Fred McGriff, and the Reds are throwing three lefty starters at them: Wells, John Smiley and gangly ace Pete Schourek. Last week each member of that trio went at least six innings and muffled the primarily righthanded-hitting Dodgers, combining for a 1.87 ERA.
" Schourek's been the best lefthander in the league for almost a year and a half, with apologies to [ Atlanta starter] Tom Glavine," says Cincy general manager Jim Bowden. With the help of Gullett and bullpen coach Grant Jackson, Schourek, whom the Reds took off the waiver wire in April 1994 from the New York Mets, added five mph to a middling fastball and traded a sloppy curve for one that bites harder than a schnauzer. Schourek entered the NLCS with a 23-8 record in his last 37 starts.
If the Reds go on to win the World Series, maybe they can get Seinfeld's Michael Richards, the guy who plays Kramer, to play Schourek in the team's highlight film. (They look like cousins.) Wells is too theatrical a character and too tenacious a pitcher not to be a central figure as well. He had jitters before his start last Friday night—"In the bullpen I was trying to throw 100 mph but it was going 20," he said—but he has the ability to relax when the camera's rolling.
And Schott or not, Wells will have about four months in the off-season to grow facial hair. After all, this is a country devoted to life, liberty and the hirsute of happiness.